To deal with the small paths, steep inclines, large distances and altitude I spent a great deal of time researching the right gear and was super pleased with myself. Although I must admit I spent most of the walk on the ground, not sure how that happened! Chaffing was a concern because of the back to back days of non-stop walking, fortunately this was not an issue that required any attending while on the move, otherwise the others may have been blinded for the reaming of their lives. Despite all of my planning and preparation I still fell short, of course, I had to buy some hiking poles and more t-shirts, that came in very handy. On my journey up, across and down the Annapurna Region we experienced bitterly cold and extremely warm conditions and we really did need to prepare for luckily I mostly had, although the few newer pieces made me very grateful.It was really important to have all the eye testing equipment fully charged and ready to go every morning before starting the day, and through this process discovered that numerous differences in power sockets needing a variety of adapters. This was hard because trying to plug and find the correct adapter in the bottom of a bag somewhere beneath, the non-chaffable underwear. The amazing porters kept us on time ensuring that we arrived at our destinations safely with all of equipment intact. In transit we had opportunities to hear a little of the individuals lives of these amazing men and to be in awe of their strength, stamina and agility.
I discovered that coffee is readily available in the more tourist centred locations and was frequently accompanied by a cake or sweet dessert. No complaints there. The higher into the Annapurna Region, and the further we moved from the tourist regions we realised how rare coffee was. The majority of what is eaten and drunk is grown, collected, and finally and most importantly eaten is sourced from the gardens around the Village’s. Tea was the preferred choice of beverage and we saw many small crops of tea being grown, which is nice but evidently coffee is better.I was treated with a local coffee that is grown, roasted and ground less than 100 meters from our current guest house. This Chhomorong family used an open tea bag type design that sat inside your mug and sits in boiling water until sufficiently steeped and conveniently placed handles allowing you to remove the coffee bag. This was a very welcomed large coffee that was coupled with one of the most magnificent views. I don’t know who would have complained.
The first day of testing took place in Hile and it was amazingly busy with over 100 locals taking advantage of the opportunity to get their eyes examined. As the day went on, so did the sunlight and eventually we had to stop as there was not enough light to continue. The numbers of participants were not expected, and health clinic was far too small for us to consult with everyone. So we used a room at the home stay and an area outside were people queued patiently. We saw school age children right through to people in their 90’s, with all types of conditions and diseases. A purpose designed app was used for patient notes, and an interpreter helped us determine the issues. For the vast majority of attendants, this was the first time people having their eyes tested. It is very hard to comprehend that this is the first eye health and vision assessment for anyone in this village.
Onwards and upwards
The community at Nile saw us off with a colourful farewell and blessing. We set off with gusto for our 15km trek up further into the mountains increasing our elevation from 1450m to 2900m. Thank goodness for the tips from previous trekkers about walking poles, as the trek was well marked but very uneven and at times wet underfoot. Leading to many falls, slips and laughs. After the first hour I was so pleased I put time into cardio training with, Mayhem Fitness, Port Augusta Judo Club, made of mainly men and Port Augusta Swimming Club, because my fitness level pulled me through the trek. My feet were spared of blisters and bruises, and I can say with great pride that I only experienced mild chaffing, so my underwear have pulled me through this first and minor test.
We celebrated our arrival at Poonhill Village quickly, and got stuck straight into examinations. Poonhill was much smaller than Nile but regardless we were still able to see 60 people and in most cases they needed optical attention.
Early Bird catches the worm
A 4.15am we started heading to the top of Poonhill Mountain to experience the sunrise at the lookout. While walking we would usually strip down to only the basic layers. But this morning it was barely 2 degrees so every layer remained on.
After months of planning and preparation Mitch has left to join the Eyes4Everest group in Thamel a small township 20 minutes from Kathmandu-Nepal. Thamel is where Mitch has met the six other optometrists and began to acclimatise, for the hike that is still to come. At each point the team will require time to adjust to the new increased altitude, otherwise they would be at risk of possible altitude sickness.
Fortunately for Mitch, the Eyes4Everest leaders are incredibly generous giving tips and advice on optometry equipment needed, examples of notes for patients that are best for local medical teams, and how to keep your equipment safe during the travelling. Paired, with the optometry advice they were also very good at giving, apparel and travel advice which Mitch was heavily reliant on.
As well as having to be an optometrist to take part in the journey, Mitch also had to more personal requirements. Do you think you could guess what they were? In his mind they were what could be the breaking point in the mission.
If you know him well, you may already know this, but Mitch has a love of coffee that has become a slight dependence. As cold turkey does, coffee has a similar withdrawal aspect to altitude sickness (the headache part at least). He decided it was probably best to explore the possibility of a portable coffee system or machine, to avoid the possibility of withdrawal. After too many, trial and error machines he sources the perfect answer the WACACO-Hand Powered Portable Expresso Machine. The system has an inbuilt cup Mitch packed ‘enough’ aluminium pods, for the journey. The only decision is whether to use local milk or stick to a short black!
The next and most pressing issue as pointed out by the very happy retail sales assistant at Kathmandu Glenelg (who had already covered her counter with Mitch’s potential purchases). Was the absolute necessity, to seriously consider the risk of chaffing … while hiking. You can guess? This was an enlightening awareness raiser, as the clothing dilemmas until that point was clearly focused on, clothing layers to accommodate temperatures -2 to -30 degrees and finding boots and socks suitable for size 13D feet. Watch out Himalayas big foots stomping through! The world of perfect underwear was shared with him and we became all too aware of the huge range of materials, cuts and wicking properties that requires a degree in engineering to understand. This overwhelming lack of forethought about underwear saw Mitch buying a variety of jock designs in pursuit of the perfect pair. In the six weeks leading up to this adventure he thoughtfully, assessed each pair, finding what on merit and was able to make him and them thought was the best choice. So the Gold Medal goes to ‘Icebreaker Anatomic Long Woollen Jocks’.
Only time will tell if he tries the coffee with local milk and remains confident and comfortable with his educated choice of non-chaffing jocks.
A Cataract is a cloudiness that forms in the lens of the eye. The Lens in the eye is normally clear. Poor vision results because the cloudiness interferes with the light entering the eye, causing hazy, less distinct vision.
Often people worry that a cataract is a growth on the lens, the haziness comes from the material of the lens changing, becoming dense. This change in the lens material is most often from ageing and long term exposure to UV light. Sometimes it is caused by injury, or increased more rapidly due certain diseases, and some medications. There are some rarer forms of cataract that are caused by genetic abnormalities and are stronger family inherited. For most people a family history of cataracts only mildly increases risk of developing cataracts a little younger. Occasionally cataracts can be present at birth and these can be anything from a minimal haze to very dense.
Cataracts progressively get worse with the cloudy area or areas within the lens becoming bigger and denser resulting in patient's sight getting worse. The lens is layered in rings a bit like an onion, the different layers and areas within the lens means that cataracts haze patterns (types of cataracts) does vary. Different types of cataract therefore vary slightly on how much they interfere with vision and how quickly they tend to progress. The time it takes to progress varies from months to years. Usually cataract affects both eyes but often develop at different rates. If left untreated, cataracts can cause blindness.
An examination by your Optometrist will reveal any changes to the lens of the eye. Optometrists have special equipment that enables them to see changes in the lens that may lead to cataracts. They can determine when you will benefit from surgery and can refer you to an ophthalmologist surgeon for surgery. The procedure itself has very high rate of success, very quick and involves removing the affected cloudy lens and replacing it with a new plastic lens. While patients still need spectacles after cataract surgery, patients who had very strong spectacle corrections often have the added benefit of being able to do many of the day to day activities without glasses.
Although there is no proven method to prevent cataracts, a healthy diet and reducing the levels of UV exposure can reduce the onset and progression of cataracts. You can reduce UV exposure by wearing wide brimmed hats and UV protective sunglasses while out in the sun.